Step up to the peace plate

September 14, 2010 | Editorial | Number 18
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

Tragic, isn’t it, that one fringe religious leader with a very small following can get international attention, damaging beyond calculation the good work in Christian-Muslim relations when all of the remarkable work our congregations are doing goes largely unnoticed?

Terry Jones, pastor of a 50-member flock in Gainesville, Fla., held the world captive for four long days leading up to the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City with his threat to burn 200 Qur’ans in what has been termed an Islamophobic act.

Incurring the wrath and condemnation of leaders of both faiths, and of people on the streets of major Muslim cities, Jones managed to capitalize on a culture of fear before backing down in what he claimed was a “deal” with a leading Muslim cleric in New York City to move a proposed mosque to be built near Ground Zero.

While the significance of this heinous act is probably overrated, take note, good Anabaptist Mennonite Christians, of the shifting ground under our feet. The battle for good and evil has moved into familiar territory—houses of worship. Counter-terrorism has now moved from the political arena to the religious stage.

Notice that through the media—a dominant and instant force around the globe—an obscure pastor with a tiny following was able to get the undivided attention of political and religious leaders, and the masses who watched and reacted to his every move over a four-day period. With this one act of political theatre he was able to tear down what has taken years to build.

While this is sad and can be extremely disheartening, it calls for a doubling of our efforts as a redeemed people, having honed a peace ethic based on a relationship with Jesus, who came to “heal the nations.” It is our time, our calling, to step up to the plate in ways we haven’t even imagined. We have been far too timid, too reluctant in our acculturation, to see the opportunities for peacemaking in a politically charged environment, a fear-driven culture where religious extremists are now fanning the flames.

We have made a good start in our peace efforts.

We need more Robert J. Sudermans with the courage to challenge religious world leaders to “stop teaching and justifying violence in our faith commu-
nities” when he was in the “inner circle” of 80 senior leaders at the World Religions Summit 2010 in June. He could have just as easily rationalized that his presence and networking in that influential group was good enough—a sort of “quiet witness.”

We need more Scriptural Reasoning groups, more Muslim students welcomed at our high schools and universities, more bridgebuilding breakfasts like the one sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, more refugee sponsorships by Mennonite congregations, as told by our Eastern Canada correspondent, Dave Rogalsky, on page 4.

We need to hear more narratives like David Miller shared in an address to the delegates of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada this spring and again to a workshop at our national assembly this summer, about relating to Muslim neighbours when he was pastor of University Mennonite Church in central Pennsylvania.

On the afternoon of the Sept. 11 attack, Miller, now assistant professor of missional leadership development at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., told his church’s Muslim neighbours that, not knowing what would happen to them as a reaction to this event, they would have “sanctuary” in the church and among the congregation’s families. This act was followed several weeks later by the congregation holding a picnic for the local Islamic community. At the start of the gathering, the president of the Islamic society said, “I want you to know that news of this event is being shared through my family in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

We need more Jake Buhlers of Osler, Sask., who is making “peace in the public square” a passion and life-long vocation. We need more Brice Balmers, who has brought Muslims and Christians together through Kitchener’s House of Friendship.

These are only a few examples of the good works among us. It is not meant to be comprehensive. Many, many good Canadian Mennonites are devoting noble efforts to the cause of good Christian-Muslim relationships. Praise be to God!

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